I am a user and advocate of free and openly licensed educational resources (OER), and open textbooks seems to me to be one of the lowest-hanging fruits on that OER tree.
I believe the use of OER materials in general has increased slightly the past few years, but the use of open textbooks has not increased. In fact, according to a large-scale survey recently released, only 6.6 percent of faculty members are "very aware" of them. That is not a good thing.
Back in 2010, I worked with the community college oerconsortium.org and the broader collegeopentextbooks.org
and gave many presentations on using open textbooks.
There are some colleges that have made a campus effort to encourage open textbook use, but they are in the minority.
Can you still require a textbook of your students. Yes. Maybe.
A recent survey report, "Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-16," shows a mixed picture for OER and some "serious disconnects."
One of those was that 87% of professors who had recently chosen books or other materials for a coursone said the cost to the students had been important or very important to them, but only 5% percent of those had assigned a free or openly licensed textbook.
So why didn't they opt for open textbooks? Their perceived barriers include that there were not enough resources for their subject and that it was "too hard to find what I need" (no comprehensive catalog of resources).
I heard those when I did presentations. But there are plenty of sites that catalog books.
Looking at the textbook listings at collegeopentextbooks.org, I did a search for and found two very common gen ed course textbooks for statistics and economics.
I was working at a community college when I first started working with open textbooks. Those schools are a great place for low-cost texts, especially because students are often taking courses below college level and need basic texts. Of course, students often enter 4-year colleges and also need to work on more basic math skills in order to do college-level math. Math is possibly the best subject for open textbooks because those books have a longer shelf life. Calculus does not change dramatically year to year.
Let's take a look at a great example of an open textbook on Intermediate Algebra. Now in its third edition, it is one of four open textbooks that are core teaching resources at Scottsdale Community College. Along with Basic Arithmetic, Introductory Algebra and College Algebra, it has been used by thousands of students, saving their students upwards of $150,000 per semester.
This could be used in an algebra course or as a remedial reference for students in higher level courses. Of course, this is not only something that college professors should be examining. Teachers in high schools can also make good use of many of these textbooks with their students.
This particular group of books are the result of the SCC Math faculty making a collective decision to adopt OER and the books were developed and are maintained at virtually no cost by those faculty members. They have been enhanced by a suite of ancillary materials that include online help sessions, quizzes, and instructor's guides.
Intermediate Algebra consists of 12 lessons with a MiniLesson (topic coverage via video examples and You Try problems for students), Practice Problems, and an end-of-lesson Assessment.
Want to check it out or use it? You can view/download the textbook as a PDF and access all four books at sccmath.wordpress.com.
Basic Arithmetic (MAT082) – Workbook Edition 2
Introductory Algebra (MAT090, 091, 092) – Workbook Edition 4
Intermediate Algebra (MAT120, 121, 122) – Workbook Edition 4
College Algebra (MAT150, MAT151) – Workbook Edition 1
Instructors, especially those who do not teach writing as a subject, often struggle when it comes to making suggestions to students about what they need to do to improve their writing. I saw a survey done by Turnitin.com of 2400 students in bachelor or graduate programs that asked what types of feedback they felt were most effective and what types of feedback they received most regularly.
The results can either be seen as encouraging or inconclusive. All types of feedback were seen by over half of the students as being either very or extremely effective. Even the lowest response, for general praise or encouragement, got a 56% positive response.
The responses to the types of feedback were more interesting. 68% said that they received general comments regularly while only 36% said they received examples regularly. Suggestions for improvement, the type of feedback rated most effective by students, was only seen regularly by 58% of students.
It is also interesting that across every category students rated feedback as being more effective than educators rated it. That lack of belief in feedback is certainly connected to the students in the majority saying that they didn’t regularly receive any feedback at all.
So the concern here for teachers is not as much what type of feedback they give, but whether they are giving enough feedback.
During the years that I directed a writing program, it was made clear to me that, just like teachers in all the lower grades, professors dreaded having to decide and deal with writing that you believe it is plagiarized. Of course, that is why Turnitin.com has become a successful company.They suggested in a blog post a very unusual approach to teaching about plagiarism. Have students copy. Intentionally.
Mimesis refers to the ability to copy. Mimicry is the practice of imitating. We often encourage students to mimic as a way of learning. We discourage students from copying. We should make the distinction clear to students.
I spent a few years on an academic integrity committee at a university. One of the most sensitive issues that came up in those meetings was about the perceived cultural differences when it came to imitating or copying by students.
The university has large numbers of international students, most in STEM fields, and many of them have their greatest academic difficulties with academic writing. The Turnitin.com post says that "To many educators, there’s a belief that students in eastern countries learn through rote memorization and copying while those in western countries focus more or original work and creative thought. Though the stereotype is obviously not the complete truth, there are cultural differences between educational approaches in countries with an eastern cultural background and those with a western approach."
They point to research by Anita Lundberg who teaches for Australia's James Cook University at a satellite school in Singapore. Lundberg, a cultural anthropologist studying ethnography, the study of customs and cultures, says that the biggest lesson learned is that copying and imitation is a key part of the learning experience in all cultures and in nearly all areas. Mimesis can be found in all fields including writing and art, where great masters often start mimicking the works of those who came before.
With writing, it is a good idea to give students model papers for the students to work from and even mimic. Separate mimesis from plagiarism. Teach referencing and citation skills.